Most readers of a certain age will recall the 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge in which Randy Weaver was wounded and his wife Victoria, his 14-year-old son Samuel, and U.S. Marshal William Degan were killed. The 11-day armed standoff with federal agents at the family’s wilderness home in northern Idaho was front-page news, and the fallout made headlines for some time thereafter. Weaver died on May 11 at age 74.

Not all memorial thoughts were benign. The Southern Poverty Law Center lamented that “in death, Weaver and Ruby Ridge are still inspiring some of the most dangerous political currents in America. … Far-right actors and conspiracy theorists took to social media to praise him as a hero and a martyr.”

In truth, while it’s likely some “far-right actors and conspiracy theorists” may look to Weaver for inspiration, it has always been difficult to pinpoint precisely what he believed, both before and after Ruby Ridge, or what exactly led to his lethal confrontation with the federal government.

The son of an Iowa farm couple, Weaver left college after two years to enlist in the Army and became a Green Beret during the Vietnam War, spending his time in uniform as an instructor at Fort Bragg. After his discharge in 1971, he married and returned to college but, with the birth of his first child, left school to work in manufacturing and sales. In the subsequent decade, he and his wife adopted what the New York Times describes as “a millennial form of Christianity ... that saw the world around them as fundamentally corrupt and full of signs of the coming apocalypse.”

In 1983, they sold their house and possessions and, with their three children, left Iowa to build a cabin on 20 acres of pine forest atop Ruby Ridge, near Naples, Idaho, where they became largely self-sufficient, distanced themselves from their handful of neighbors, and observed increasingly rigid religious practices. As it happened, the Weaver property was not far from the headquarters of the white-supremacist Aryan Nation, and Weaver later admitted that, while he had visited it on various occasions “to make friends,” he also shared some of their beliefs in racial separation and that the federal government was in thrall to a “Zionist conspiracy.”

In 1990, Weaver was arrested and briefly jailed on charges that he had sold two illegal sawed-off shotguns to a federal informant. Some months later, when he failed to attend a court hearing, he and his home and family were placed under surveillance while the U.S. Marshals Service considered its options. Weaver was known to possess firearms and was considered likely to resist arrest.

On Aug. 21, 1992, when marshals in camouflage entered the Weaver property to check on surveillance cameras, the barking of the family dog prompted Weaver, his son, and a family friend to approach the marshals. In an ensuing exchange of fire, a marshal was shot and killed, as were Samuel and the dog. By the following day, the FBI had been summoned, and the property was surrounded by dozens of agents, including snipers with orders to shoot and kill any adult men. When Weaver returned to the cabin from depositing his son’s body in a barn, he was wounded by an FBI sniper, and, as he paused in his doorway, a second shot killed his wife, who was standing behind him holding their 10-month-old daughter.

On Aug. 31, Weaver surrendered and was subsequently charged with first-degree murder. He was acquitted at trial, however, and later won a wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government.

While Weaver’s inchoate beliefs were abhorrent, the FBI’s overreaction was equally problematical and repeated in the following year when the siege of an anti-government religious sect in Texas resulted in a 51-day confrontation and the death of four agents and 82 Branch Davidians, including 25 children.

“If I had to do it over again, knowing what I know now,” Weaver later reflected to Congress, “I would make different choices [and] come down from the mountain for the court appearance.”

Philip Terzian is the author of Architects of Power: Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and the American Century.